Volatile alkyl formates are potential replacements for the ozone-depleting fumigant, methyl bromide, as postharvest insecticides and here we have investigated their mode of insecticidal action. Firstly, a range of alkyl esters, ethanol and formic acid were tested in mortality bioassays with adults of the rice weevil, Sitophilus oryzae (L.) and the grain borer, Rhyzopertha dominica (F.) to determine whether the intact ester or one of its components was the toxic moiety. Volatile alkyl formates and formic acid caused similar levels of mortality (LC50 131-165 μmol l-1) to S. oryzae and were more potent than non-formate containing alkyl esters and ethanol (LC50>275 μmol l-1). The order of potency was the same in R. dominica. Ethyl formate was rapidly metabolised in vitro to formic acid when incubated with insect homogenates, presumably through the action of esterases. S. oryzae and R. dominica fumigated with a lethal dose of ethyl formate had eight and 17-fold higher concentrations of formic acid, respectively, in their bodies than untreated controls. When tested against isolated mitochondria from S. oryzae, alkyl esters, alcohols, acetate and propionate salts were not inhibitory towards cytochrome c oxidase (EC 126.96.36.199), but sodium cyanide and sodium formate were inhibitory with IC50 values of 0.0015 mM and 59 mM, respectively. Volatile formate esters were more toxic than other alkyl esters, and this was found to be due, at least in part, to their hydrolysis to formic acid and its inhibition of cytochrome c oxidase.
- Cytochrome c oxidase
- Ethyl formate